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Lawrence yeshiva is named National Blue Ribbon School

The exterior of Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence is

The exterior of Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence is seen on Tuesday, Sept 29, 2015. The school was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A high-performing Jewish academy for boys in Lawrence won National Blue Ribbon School recognition Tuesday -- the only school on Long Island to attain the honor this year.

Rambam Mesivta, which is Orthodox Jewish, enrolls 164 students in grades nine through 12. It is among 335 public and private schools given the award this year by the U.S. Education Department.

Rambam is the second yeshiva on the Island to attain Blue Ribbon status since the program was established in 1982, according to the federal agency's list of honorees. Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway was named in the 1987-88 academic year.

Public elementary schools in East Meadow and Quogue were nominated for 2015 awards by the state. But the two schools were disqualified because of high numbers of students who refused to take state standardized tests in April, affecting a participation benchmark that is among the requirements to be named a Blue Ribbon School.

Administrators at 24-year-old Rambam Mesivta could not take phone calls Tuesday due to their observance of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Ira Schildkraut, a former guidance director, expressed delight when informed of the award.

Schildkraut noted that Rambam Mesivta students complete a rigorous schedule of courses, religious and secular, and that they pursue an additional year of studies in Israel or the United States before attending college.

Rambam's faculty "expect a lot of their students and they get it," said Schildkraut, who now works at an affiliated school, Shalhevet High School for Girls in North Woodmere.

The Blue Ribbon program recognizes two types of "exemplary" schools. One group, including Rambam, was rated as having high academic performers. Other schools were recognized for closing achievement gaps between various groups of students, including minorities.

Rambam's academic courses are taught at a Regents or Advanced Placement level, and the school also offers a science-research program. Students regularly win honors in science competitions, including the national Intel and Siemens contests.

Coursework includes four years' study in Talmud, Bible, Jewish law and philosophy and other religious subjects.

Rambam Mesivta was among eight schools across New York State granted Blue Ribbon status this year. Eleven other schools received nominations -- including the two on Long Island -- but missed the final cut because of the effects of statewide test boycotts, which were the nation's largest.

Federal guidelines generally require at least 95 percent of a school's students to participate in state testing.

The School Administrators Association of New York State, which represents principals and other officials, appealed to federal and state authorities on behalf of the disqualified schools, but was unsuccessful in obtaining waivers.

Jim Viola, director of government relations for the Albany-based group, said Tuesday that schools seeking consideration in the future should inform parents of the decision and "urge parents to have children tested" before going through the "time-consuming rigor" of the application and nomination process.

Viola said he still believes the schools nominated this year should be recognized "for their hard work and their performance."

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